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Last updated 16:09 11/03/2014

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Businesses need to be able to support the needs of an ageing work force as New Zealand faces a looming skills shortage, according to a new survey.

The Equal Employment Opportunities Trust (EEOT) quarterly diversity survey found almost two-thirds of businesses were unprepared to support an ageing work force.

The survey of 1100 businesses found the increasingly age-diverse work force was becoming a reality and a diversity focus for organisations.

As New Zealand faced a looming labour shortage ageing workers, youth and migrants would become a key target for businesses to recruit and retain, EEOT said.

Trust chief executive Bev Cassidy-Mackenzie said employers were concerned with balancing the needs of a diverse work force, including older workers, and those coming into the workplace for the first time.

"With an ageing population and shifting expectations for the age of retirement, we really need to understand why we're currently overlooking this rich talent pool, what perceptions are driving this and how we can look to change it," Cassidy-Mackenzie said.

Employers needed to consider the business benefits of retaining older workers, including less staff churn and loss of skills and knowledge, she said.

Employers also needed to consider what drove older workers to stay in the business, she said.

"Research tells us that if you look after your staff and put in place appropriate support mechanisms such as flexible working arrangements or health and wellbeing programmes, that you will see increased retention not to mention productivity and performance."

Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett said the results showed companies were serious about understanding their level of workplace diversity and how they compared to the wider work force.

"More people are recognising that diversity has come out of the HR office and is something that needs to be part of routine behaviours in the workplace."

New Zealand was facing a labour shortage and every business needed to address skills shortages. Embracing diversity made good business sense, Barnett said.

"It means having access to talent across all demographics and the competitive edge to address the skills shortage head-on."

Head of the EEOT diversity research and AUT University Professor Tim Bentley said 39 per cent of businesses said bias was an area of concern.

The result showed there was a growing awareness of the conscious and unconscious bias that impacted decision-making in all organisations, Bentley said.

The EEOT said the majority of the quarterly survey's results were relatively consistent with those in the November survey.

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However, the number of companies that said workplace bullying was important rose to 34 per cent from 28 per cent in the last survey, suggesting there was either more reporting of incidents or greater acceptance that this was a real workplace issue, the trust said.

- Fairfax Media


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